News: Local community members add realism to training exercise
Story by Staff Sgt. Timothy Koster
MUSCATATUCK URBAN TRAINING COMPLEX, Ind. – In the early 20th century, the threat of nuclear war was no more than science fiction. In 1913, H.G. Wells wrote a book called "The World Set Free" that warned about how nuclear weaponry would be more destructive than anything else the world had witnessed before. On Aug. 6, 1945, these warnings came to fruition when the nuclear bombs named Little Boy and Fat Man destroyed the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, respectively, abruptly ending the Second World War.
After its surrender, one of the biggest issues facing the Japanese government was providing support to the citizens displaced by the destruction of the cities. In an effort to practice how to effectively help civilians in their time of need after a catastrophic attack, such as a nuclear blast, members of U.S. Army North hired local community members to role-play these civilians during the annual training exercise, Vibrant Response ’14 (VR ’14).
After witnessing the destructive capabilities the nuclear weapons had in Japan, the United States and many other countries have made the effort to eliminate the threat of nuclear war through weapon disarmament programs. However, now that the technology is available, the threat of an attack on the United States is ever present and it is taking steps to be prepared in case this worst-case scenario event should unfold.
The intention behind VR ’14 is to test the participating local, state and federal agencies’ ability to handle a multitude of issues following a terrorist attack using a nuclear device in an U.S. city. The people at Muscatatuck Urban Training Complex (MUTC) have littered the training area with broken down vehicles, clothing and debris that would typically be found in the aftermath of a major disaster.
However, visual aesthetics is only one aspect of the realism put into the exercise, the other being members who have come from the surrounding communities to role-play as the members of the fictional city destroyed by the notional nuclear device.
“It’s not just about the physical [damage], it’s the mental,” said Lt. Gen. Perry Wiggins, commanding general of the exercise. “So the more realistic we can make it, the better.”
“They want you to really act it out,” said June Porter, a role-player from Madison, Indiana. “They want you to cry and scream like you really would when people panic.”
With real-life people acting as if this were a real-life incident, the exercise participants must adapt to the various simulated personalities, injuries and possibility of further injury or death if the appropriate action isn’t taken.
“They’re doing great, they were acting like I was really hurt,” Brendon Wooteen, a role-player from Madison, Indiana. “They kept asking me ‘what’s wrong with you?’ and I kept playing along.”
The organizers not only brought in real people to role-play citizens who were displaced by the nuclear attack, but they also brought in a moulage team from Puerto Rico to fabricate injuries for the role-players. These artificial wounds help to clearly identify what’s wrong with the role-player, and some of the injuries look incredibly realistic.
“I’ve never experienced anything like this before. It’s like we’re going to film a movie,” said Wooteen.
“I definitely wouldn’t ever want to look like this but they did a good job on it,” said Gina Fields, a role-player from North Vernon, Indiana who was made up to look like her face was badly burned.
Each morning of the exercise, the role-players receive a card that describes what happened to them and where they should go in the training area. This card allows them to understand what happened to them in the scenario, helping them act when the rescue teams arrive.
VR ’14 is not only an aesthetically realistic training environment that helps the participating agencies analyze their effectiveness in the response and management in a crisis. It is also a powerful learning opportunity for the role-players to learn how to become better prepared for a real-world situation.
“A lot of this would be the same [for natural disasters], such as what you need to do and how you need to act,” said Porter.
“I’ve thought about real-world situations before this but this puts reality in your face,” added Wooteen. “This can happen and you’ve got to be prepared for it.”
Although the threat of a nuclear attack in the United States is always a grave possibility that the U.S. government and other agencies are actively trying to avoid, exercises like Vibrant Response ’14 better prepare the responding agencies to handle the aftermath. At the heart of the exercise are the role-players who help provide the realism of human interaction to an exercise that simulates an event where that interaction is unavoidable.